U.S. Supreme Court History

Course Information

Registration Information

Meeting Times

Day Time Location
FRI 1:05 - 4:25 pm TNH 2.137
SAT 9:00 am - 12:15 pm TNH 2.137

Evaluation Method

Type Date Time Location


This course will have required readings prior to the first in-class meeting. The only days this course will meet in person are: Friday, February 16, Saturday, February 17, Friday, February 23, and Saturday, February 24.

This short course will take a tour of the U.S. Supreme Court’s institutional history from its earliest days—back when Supreme Court Justices had to travel the countryside to hold trials and were required by law to stay in public lodgings—up to the present, where Justices exercise enormous and momentous power.  Over four sessions, we will explore how the Court has evolved over 230 years from a small and weak institution into one of the dominant forces in American law and society.  We will focus on topics including the following, in each instance tracing the development from the Court’s early history to its modern incarnation: 

  • the obligations of a Supreme Court Justice and the annual cycle of the Court’s work;
  • how ordinary Americans have seen or interacted with the Court throughout its history;
  • how the Court has handled (or mishandled) politicized moments;
  • the Justices with the greatest impact in transforming the Court into what it is today;
  • the kinds of cases the Court takes, and why;
  • how the Court conducts oral arguments;
  • how the Court reaches its decisions internally and communicates them externally;
  • how Presidents have chosen Justices, and how the Senate has responded;
  • how Justices have interacted with their colleagues and their staff;
  • how Justices have departed the bench;and
  • other related topics, including any that might be of special interest to the students in the class.  

We will end the course with a look forward to the challenges yet to come.  The instructors are both former U.S. Supreme Court clerks who both have argued cases before that Court and who both are currently serving judges, one on the Fifth Circuit and the other on the Texas Supreme Court.  The chief learning objectives include developing a deeper appreciation for the Supreme Court’s history and the way the Court has influenced and been influenced by larger American society.  Ultimately, this course aims to give future lawyers insight into how and why the Supreme Court functions the way that it does and to empower them to place the Court’s work product in greater historical context.  

Textbooks ( * denotes required )

Courtwatchers : Eyewitness Accounts in Supreme Court History *
Cushman, Clare
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Incorporated
ISBN: 978-1-4422-1246-6


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Important Class Changes

Date Updated
02/13/2024 Meeting times changed